Art & Activism: MOVE
The MOVE team speaks out on protest, politics, and patronage
August 6, 2019
by Michael Bilsborough
Our third annual Art & Activism event will celebrate the power of collectives, performance as political activism, and artistic activations of public space. Special guests will include MOVE, a design collective founded by SVA MFA Products of Design alumni. MOVE designs and sells protest gear that empowers organizers, revolutionaries and dreamers to make their message heard. MOVE’s clients choose from a menu of compellingly unique form factors, including foldable megaphones, floating lanterns, DIY signs. Clients can either design the graphics themselves, consult with MOVE’s designers, or leave the customization up to the protesters — with the help of MOVE’s on-site mobile customization station.
The MOVE team has developed an interactive showcase of their project for this year’s Art & Activism event — including a limited run of flat-pack megaphones. Guests are invited to visit the MOVE station where they can customize their megaphones and learn about the project.
Read on to learn more about MOVE’s vision for protest and systematic change.
SVACE: Recently, artists and activists prompted the Whitney Museum's vice chairman, Warren Kanders, to step down from the board. The protests were persistent and public, with support from the art press. In your opinion, what in particular made these protests so effective?
MOVE: The protests surrounding the Kanders resignation were unique in that calls for change came both from within the Whitney and from outsiders. It is still not clear exactly how the Forensic Architecture documentary was commissioned to the Biennial, but clearly its appearance suggested an act of subversion by Whitney curatorial staff against higher management.
This alone was not enough to effect change, which only occurred after the cause was also taken up by outside protest groups, particularly Decolonize this Place, who staged weeks of conspicuous actions. This ultimately inspired artists to withdraw their work.
An Axios synopsis framed the conflict as one of class warfare: “Tensions are emerging between labor and capital. The artists who make the museum's art have rarely seemed less aligned with the plutocrats who dominate its board”. Even though it was hidden in subtext, the incident fit into the framework of a much larger struggle, which amplified the effectiveness of the protests.
SVACE: The New York Times reported that some board members “worried that [Kanders' resignation] would embolden protesters to demand the resignation of other board members, including some who have also had business interests in industries that have been targeted by activists, like oil and gas companies and defense contractors." Would such demands be a problem, in your opinion?
MOVE: There are voices like Anand Giridharadas’ who compellingly argue that philanthropy can be a cheap way for wealthy people to whitewash their reputations, even when they may have contributed to suffering and dysfunction in society.
This is clearly the case in many New York cultural institutions, which cravenly distribute empty honorifics to the highest bidders. In some cases, the conflict of interest rises to the level of absurdity. The Museum of Natural History enjoys the patronage of Robert Mercer and David Koch. By day, these donors are the leading financiers of anti-science propaganda like the climate denial movement. By night, they are toasted at lavish soirees at the museum for their contributions to science.
Ultimately, one would hope that the whack-a-mole approach to ousting individual board members of questionable moral standing through protest might eventually evolve into calls for more systematic change. For example, museums could give board seats to managers and art experts with experience stewarding non-profit institutions in the public interest, rather than wealthy social strivers with shadowy agendas.
SVACE: Many other public protests find mixed success, or fall short of some goals. For example, the Keystone KL protests in 2015 led to President Obama's postponement of the pipeline construction. But the 2016 election changed that outcome. How do protests and movements measure success, besides their immediate goals?
MOVE: Public opinion is often far more advanced than the supposedly enlightened and educated views of the rich and powerful. For example, anyone with even a remedial grasp of the urgency of climate change knows that building more carbon infrastructure is essentially suicidal. Yet it took years of concerted protest to influence Barack Obama, a leader many would assume was a natural ally of the cause, to reconsider his administration’s support of the Keystone pipeline. Even then, he threw winks and nods to industry, suggesting that they might eventually get their way, which they did.
Despite the failure of traditional news media to communicate climate science, the extravagant misinformation campaigns of large corporations, the craven corruption of the Republican Party on climate issues, and the spineless equivocation of many Democrats, the American public is becoming increasingly concerned and educated on these issues. Protest movements have something to do with that.
While most protests are centered around specific policy outcomes, they also serve to nourish political movements. Even seemingly failed protests have reverberating consequences. The ‘Occupy Wall Street’ protests had essentially no measurable impact on policy and was widely dismissed as unserious in the media. But today, many young organizers, commentators, and activists cite their participation in Occupy as a formative experience.
SVACE: Protest signs can be artful or immediate, ranging from designed, branded, printed materials to cardboard flaps marked up with Sharpie. Your website details the complications therein. What are the problems you solved with your MOVE project? And what were some visual, formal influences and sources of inspiration?
MOVE: The MOVE Megaphone is about giving people permission to use their own voice on behalf of a larger movement. Often, we see rallies and protests hosted by reasonably well heeled advocacy organizations like political campaigns. When signs and other collateral are preprinted, the experience of the protest can seem stiff and stage managed, both to protesters and to the protest’s audience. Compared to homemade protest gear (think cardboard and sharpies), mass-produced signage tends to pigeonhole self-expression.
MOVE bridges the gap and allows casual protesters to feel more engaged in the event. By deploying customization stations, protesters can design their message to match their beliefs and motivations. The act of folding and assembling the origami style megaphone frames the user as an active participant and collaborator, rather than a passive supporter. This shows up in media imagery as well; MOVE gear presents neither as dis-unified as homemade signage, or as stage managed as mass produced signs.
In our experience, protestors like to bring home their megaphones, which then have a second life as a memento of the experience. Today’s protest collateral, whether home made or mass produced are usually discarded at the end of the event.
MOVE (continued): We were inspired by examples of "subversive packaging," a genre widely celebrated in the design community. For example, a group of designers from the University of Washington created a tampon box which contained anti sex-trafficking literature and a hotline for abused women. The idea was this information would be concealed from abusers but inadvertently distributed to victims. We were also inspired by various iconic products to emerge from mainstream protests like the Women’s March, which produced the controversial ‘pussy hat’.
Many high-profile protests in the Trump era differ from Occupy or Keystone in that they are highly mainstream; embraced and promoted by establishment power. We think that by introducing self-expression through Move, a more diverse range of viewpoints might be invited into these events.
MOVE was founded by Alexia Cohen, Lassor Feasly and Will Crum. Join us at Art & Activism and enjoy the opportunity to work with MOVE to make quick, fun and customized protest gear in time for the primary season.